‘Modern farming practices have caused farm bird numbers to decline’

Modern farming practices have caused farm bird numbers to decline, according to Dr Alex Copland of Birdwatch Ireland.

Speaking at Teagasc’s Agri-Environment Conference in Tullamore recently, the Senior Conservation Officer, highlighted the reduction in farm bird species over the past 40 years in Ireland.

According to Dr Copland, the decline in farm birds has occurred primarily as a result of agriculture and changes in farming practices have had a major impact on numbers.

“Farm land birds are all in decline as a result of a switch to modern farming practices. Something has to be done to stop this decline, GLAS has introduced a large range of measures for these priority farm land birds.”

However, Dr Copland added that the declines in farm bird numbers were not just confined to Ireland as similar reductions have also occurred in the UK.

There have been huge declines pretty much across the board but some species do go extinct, they can vanish completely.

“However, contraction in species does not only occur in Ireland – similar declines have occurred in the UK and further a field.”

According to the representative from Birdwatch Ireland, the new GLAS scheme has the potential to reverse some of this damage, but it can not operate on its own and farmers’ understanding of the scheme is vital.

“GLAS cannot operate in isolation, it is essential that there are other supports, farmers need to understand why they are carrying out these measures. An understanding is crucial to the success of the scheme.”

Moreover, he added, that similar schemes have been proven to work, which includes schemes involving the Corn Crake and the Grey Partridge.

“We are looking at huge numbers participating in this scheme but how can we be sure that the measures work?”

There were declines in Corncrake numbers, but over the last 20 years the numbers have stabilised as we now understand what they need and we are able to deliver it on the ground.

“There is a very quick response when the correct measures are introduced.

“It was almost too late to save the Grey Partidrige, it almost disappeared but the conservationists came in and managed to save it,” he said.

But despite the predicted success of this new environmental scheme with payments to begin in December of 2015, it must be continually monitored for weaknesses and flaws.

GLAS must also be evaluated for weaknesses or gaps that will allow for the promotion of future successful schemes.

“A similar model to GLAS could be used to tackle the decline in upland bird species including Red Grouse and Skylark.

“Something will have to be done in the near future to ensure that these species do not disappear.”

Priority wild bird measures under GLAS
  • Breeding Waders – Managing breeding habitats including nesting and foraging areas
  • Chough – Managing foraging habitats
  • Corncrake – Managing nesting habitats by delaying and centre mowing, creation and maintenance of early and late cover.
  • Geese and Swans – measure for wintering areas, grass cover to graze on as a foraging habitat
  • Grey Partridge – Winter cover, nesting strips, brood rearing strips
  • Hen Harrier – Managing foraging habitats for prey species
  • Twite – Breeding season foraging habitats and winter foraging habitats